Esther Perel: “We have started to control the body, to control sexuality”
Interview with Esther Perel, psychotherapist and specialist in couples therapy, who participates in the 6th Congress of Education, Orientation and Sexual Therapy….
By MARTA MARIA RAMIREZ
January 23, 2012
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Esther Perel is a psychotherapist and specializes in couples therapies. Born in Belgium, she studied in Israel and has her practice in NY where it seems she has many celebrities as patients.
Talking with Esther Perel is a privilege. Her personal story, as the daughter of Polish Jewish Holocaust survivors, refugees in Belgium, could be the plot of a novel or a movie.
But today we talk about the couple, after the workshop “The dilemmas of desire and clinical work with couples”, which she offered to specialists at Havana’s Casa de la Amistad on Saturday, January 21.
On Monday January 23, Perel will conduct the workshop “Emotional intelligence, erotic intelligence: new conversations about the sexuality of life in couples.”
What is the body for Esther?
It is the house in which we live. Some of us live well because it is a house, which has been respected, caressed, cared for, and which we care for.
Others see it as the central place of our inhibitions, restrictions and it turns out to be a prison. But the body is the foundation: if you are not inside your body, you are not present and to have desire or satisfying sex, you have to be present and your partner too.
If the body is dissociated, you are not there. If the body is not a place where you want to invite someone, where you are going to enter, because you don’t just enter an orifice, you enter a person, a world, a space.
For me, the body that enjoys, that feels good, is a base. At the same time, the most important sexual organ is the mind.
So, are the images of ideal women presented to us by the mass media a place of torture also for our sexualities?
It is torture for women that is expanding also to men, in consumer societies, where youth and beauty can be bought.
Since always, in every civilization, the body has been adored, decorated… This is not new. But the idea is that if you are not the ideal model, you have to feel less, diminished, because you don’t make it. That is slavery.
This is a way to control and every society controls sexuality, abstinence and license. We can no longer control so much what people do sexually, so we have started to control the body, how it dresses, how it takes care of itself, how it beautifies itself.
How does Esther see sexual pleasure? For you, is it a sexual right?
I never thought of pleasure as a right. But I am interested in this point of view. It seems logical to me.
I see pleasure more as a fundamental need in life. Not only sexual pleasure, to have pleasure, to enjoy, to feel alive.
Pleasure is the antidote to anxiety. It is play. When we see a child who does not play, we say that he is depressed, that he is anxious and that he is not living well. Adults also need to be able to play and have pleasure.
Sexual pleasure is a part of sexuality, a sexuality of desire, not of reproduction or obligation. So, desire comes with pleasure.
Why do we tend to deprive ourselves of pleasure, even though our sexuality, after the appearance of the contraceptive pill, is no longer for reproduction?
We are the first generations to have and want long-lasting sex. We think it can be achieved with only one person, based on the modern couple model, which is romantic. We want sex anchored in desire and this is, fundamentally, an expression of individual freedom.
As a consequence, pleasure cannot be forced; yes, sex. There is no pleasure without freedom. You cannot feel pleasure when you are anxious, when you are afraid, when you are forced or controlled.
Is there a lot of discussion about monogamy and infidelity? What do you think?
Monogamy is going to be the main issue for couples from now on. The next frontier will be sexual exclusivity and developing other ways of thinking about monogamy. Perhaps a monogamy not seen as sexual exclusivity, in the same way that we could not conceptualize premarital sex, with more than one person in life or non-pathologized homosexuality.
Infidelity is one of the main reasons for divorce because it breaks the romantic contract.
Have you ever said that having to take care of the other person in the couple is the most antiaphrodisiac? Why?
Love takes care, has responsibility, mutuality, reciprocity. But need does not give desire. Desire gives desire, invitation gives desire, wanting gives desire; need does not. When people talk about situations of desire they don’t feel responsible for anyone.
There is no element more successful than the independence of the other. When you ask men and women what turns you on the most, they answer self-sufficient and independent people. The fully sexualized woman is a free woman who does not need a man; same with competent men. There is no dependence on desire.
This is a contradiction with the model of femininity imposed by the patriarchy….
The submissive woman, with a double standard by the privileged man, that he can be unfaithful or can have passion because she does not, is a model is failing, even if it continues.
Why is there a crisis of the couple? Is it true?
It is true that there is a crisis of the couple. But I don’t know if the couple was so good before. I do know that expectations have changed. Today we want a person to give us what a whole community used to do: belonging, continuity, stability, independence and at the same time I want you to be my best friend, my passionate lover and even my confidant. Never before have we tried to have the same person give us continuity and novelty, surprise and stability?
Also today we want to be happy today. Before it was something for after death, not for the here and now. Not only do we want to be happy, but we are unhappy not to be happy. Happiness is a mandate.
So, the crisis of the couple is because we have carried within a unit a number of needs that are perhaps too many.
What is the meaning of the bed in today’s times?
Couples talk about their problems and their erotic problems in bed. Many fights are located there because we have a bed.
Today’s bed we want be sensual, passionate, affectionate, affectionate and when it is not so, there is an emptiness, anguish, longing… The bed becomes a place of intimacy and not only to go to rest.
Why Cuba, after two years?
Today the family is maintained only if the couple is happy. Today the focus is no longer: we stay together for the children, the community… I think we are all with the challenges of couples therapy, which I think is the most difficult. I am part of a global conversation and I came to have it with Cuban compañeros .